Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Metropolis / Fixations

Rubber Duckies, You're the Ones

When Squeeze Toys Multiply Exponentially

August 24, 2003|GINNY CHIEN

It's never lonely in Charlotte Lee's bathtub. The Santa Monica resident shares her home with what's believed to be the largest rubber duck collection in the world. In seven years of scouring retail and Internet sites, Lee has rounded up about 1,400 buoyant quackers.

It started innocently enough in 1996 with a set of three rubber ducks--a mom and two babies, all with girlie eyelashes. She bought them at a drugstore for her bathroom. "The next week I saw three more and thought, 'Well, I'll just get these, too, to keep the other ones company," says Lee, a doctoral candidate in information studies at UCLA. In short order, her husband, Marcel Blonk, an engineer, was sharing quarters with hundreds of squeaky toys. "At about 14 or 15 ducks, he said, 'Honey, I think you have enough,' " says Lee, 34. "At around 200, he adopted the can't-beat-them-join-them mentality."

Among Lee's flock are a 1930s-era Donald Duck with cracking paint and a pair resembling Laker stars Shaq and Kobe. Others sport sailor caps or sunglasses; no two are identical. "It's a nice contrast to my life as a graduate student, where everything is intellectual and serious and analytical," says Lee. "Rubber ducks are the antithesis of that."

The historical record is sketchy. According to Lee, rubber squeeze toys debuted during the 1930s in forms from dogs to dolls to ducks. The ducks seem to have broken away from the rest of the pack in the '40s, Lee says, when every suburban family seemed to have one in the tub. While the classic model still looks like a prop from a mid-century baby shampoo commercial, rubber ducks come in a range of sizes and colors. Vintage limited-edition ducks, often promotional items given with a purchase, can cost more than $100.

Lee and Blonk, who have family in Taiwan and the Netherlands, always include duck-hunting on the travel itinerary and have taken road trips, most recently to San Diego and San Francisco, devoted solely to the chase. Lee, who owns creatures from as far away as Russia, El Salvador and Japan, also maintains a, ahem, Web site, www.duckplanet.com, a virtual meeting place filled with pleas for trades and announcements of new products. Though she gets e-mail from such far-flung locales as Germany and Australia, Lee calls Los Angeles "rubber duck-collecting central" due to the city's abundance of flea markets, swap meets and antique stores. Lee is busy finishing her dissertation and hopes to write a book about the hobby. In the meantime, she continues to add to the brood, buying as many as 30 birds in a good week. "A friend of mine once said, 'Charlotte, ducks can't buy you happiness.' I sat there for a second thinking about it and said, 'You know, you're wrong.' "

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|